2000(always read the Shabbat after Purim)
Red is the Color of My True Love's Heifer
The rabbinic requirements for finding a red heifer in order to purify those defiled by the dead were exacting and difficult. The Torah commands that this animal be a "red cow wholly-sound, that has in it no defect, that has not yielded to a yoke." (Numbers 19:1-2)
The sages interpreted wholly-sound to mean completely red. Two non-red hairs in the same follicle would disqualify the expectant little heifer from the honor of purifying the defiled of Israel. (Mishnah Parah 2:5)
Purification rituals only applied to Jews. They are the most particularistic and they are the rituals which emphasize the unique relationship between the Jews as a "Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation" and the Holy One. In this context the following story from the Talmud is interesting.
Talmud Kiddushin 31a
Rabbi Eliezer was asked by his students: How much must one honor one's parents?
He answered: Take a look and see what a certain idolater named Dama son of Nethinah did in Ashkelon. The Sages sought jewels for the vest of the high priest which were valued at a profit of six-hundred-thousand [gold denari] - Rav Kahana taught that they were valued at a profit of eight-hundred-thousand - but the key to the storeroom was lying under his father's pillow and his father was sleeping at that time. Dama refused to trouble him. Dama lost the sale.
The following year the Holy One, gave him his reward. A red heifer was born to him in his herd. When the Sages of Israel went to him [to buy it], he said to them, "I know that [even] if I asked you for all the money in the world you would pay me. But I ask of you only the money that I lost through honoring my father."
Your Talmud Navigator
1. Why does God reward an idolater?
2. Why would God make us dependent on someone outside the community for the most insular of rituals?
3. What do the rabbis wish to teach us?
Dama exhibited his commitment to ethical behavior, even without the benefit of the Torah's commandments. He honored his father not because of the Torah, but because he cared for his father more than he cared about the sale.
When he realized he could charge whatever he wished, he only covered his loss rather than exploiting his neighbors for more money. His love for his earthly father, and his fairness to his neighbors are worth much to God, even if God is not counted in the equation. God also taught that even when the Jewish community is engaged in rituals that are "for Jews only" writ large, the outside world is still with us and we had better behave accordingly.